The plan has infuriated fervent Brexit supporters.
LONDON—The British government released detailed plans Thursday for what it called a “principled pragmatic and ambitious” Brexit—plans that already triggered the resignation of two top ministers and split the governing Conservative Party, and which face likely resistance from the European Union.
The long-awaited document proposes keeping Britain and the EU in a free market for goods, with a more distant relationship for services.
Prime Minister Theresa May’s government is trying to satisfy Britons who voted for their country to leave the bloc, but to set an independent course without hobbling businesses, security agencies and other sectors that are closely entwined with the EU.
But the plan has infuriated fervent Brexit supporters, who think it would limit Britain’s ability to strike new trade deals around the world. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Brexit Secretary David Davis both quit the government this week in protest.
The turmoil in May’s government over Brexit has erupted as U.S. President Donald Trump began a four-day visit to Britain Thursday and nine months before the U.K.’s departure from the EU.
Trump did not exactly give May’s plans a ringing endorsement. The U.S. leader said at a NATO summit in Brussels that it seemed as if the U.K. was “getting at least partially involved back with the European Union.”
“I don’t know if that is what they voted for,” he said.
May insisted her plan was exactly what Britons had voted for in a 2016 EU membership referendum.
“They voted for us to take back control of our money, our law and our borders,” she said. “That is exactly what we will do.”
Newly appointed Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab said the plans called for an “innovative and unprecedented economic partnership” between Britain and the EU.
Britain is currently part of the EU’s single market—which allows for the frictionless flow of goods and services among the 28 member states—and its tariff-free customs union for goods. That will end after the U.K. leaves the bloc in March. The plans laid out Thursday in a 98-page government paper give Britain’s most detailed answer yet to the question of what will replace them.
Under the blueprint, Britain would stick to a “common rulebook” with the EU for goods and agricultural products in return for free trade, without tariffs or border customs checks. Such a resolution would avoid disruption to automakers and other manufacturers that source parts from multiple countries.
The government said Britain would act “as if in a combined customs territory” with the EU, using technology at its border to determine whether goods from third countries were bound for Britain or the EU, and charging the appropriate tariffs in those cases.
Britain says that will solve the problem of maintaining an open border between Northern Ireland, which is part of the U.K., and EU member Ireland.
Free trade would not apply to services, which account for 80 per cent of the British economy. The government said that would give Britain “freedom to chart our own path,” though it would mean less access to EU markets than there is now.
The plan also seeks to keep Britain in major EU agencies, including the European Aviation Safety Agency, the European Medicines Agency and the police agency Europol.
When the U.K. leaves the EU, it will end the automatic right of EU citizens to live and work in Britain. But Britain said EU nationals should be able to travel visa-free to Britain for tourism or “temporary business,” and there should be measures allowing young people and students to work and study in Britain.
Other elements likely to anger Brexit-backers are Britain’s willingness to pay the EU for access to certain agencies and the suggestion some EU citizens could continue to work in Britain visa-free.
And while Britain will no longer fall under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice—a longtime bugbear of Brexit supporters—British courts would “pay due regard” to European court case law in relevant cases under the proposals.
Pro-Brexit Conservative lawmaker Jacob Rees-Mogg colorfully described the plan as “the greatest vassalage since King John paid homage to Phillip II at Le Goulet in 1200.”
Pro-EU lawmakers, in contrast, think the proposed post-Brexit ties with the bloc are not close enough.
The proposals also may fall foul of the EU’s insistence that the U.K cannot “cherry pick” the benefits of EU membership, such as access to the single market, without accepting the responsibilities, including free movement.
EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier has warned Britain the bloc won’t let its single market be treated like a “big supermarket.”